Opinion

“Natl. Day of Prayer, Breath of Fire II, and Considering People as Individuals”

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When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Mark 2:17

 

 

So hey. Today is the (a?) National Day of Prayer in the US, or something? Sneaked up on me, too. There are, of course, politics involved and my point in this article isn’t to get into that. It’d be rather short if my only concern were the superficial nods to Christianity that elected leaders offer between bouts of immorality. Gotta get those votes somehow, right?

Anyway, I wanted to talk about religion a little more broadly, relate it to conversations I’ve had recently about members of collectives, stereotypes, and individualism, maybe tie in a little video game reference for good measure.

I’ve seen more than a few light annoyances today such as “why is there a whole national day of prayer? You think you’re the only people in the country?” Sir or ma’am… yesterday was “world play the ukulele day”… There have been sorer irritations in recent times, such as pictures from last year of a flooded Texas hit by the hurricane with one Twitter user (verified, of course) taunting human suffering with: “Where’s your God now?” Another recent groaning has been over “thoughts and prayers”, one TV personality asserting that prayer is a sign of mental illness before retracting the statement and saying she prays too. Beyond that, you see people say “sending my love and positive energy your way” which is long-form for… “thoughts and prayers”.

To clarify my own position, I intercede and supplicate as a Christian but I don’t pray at the behest of politicians, nor do I expect my politicians to just pray. I expect these leaders to lead and protect the safety and happiness of every American citizen. All of this bears clarification, you must realize. That’s because so much is assumed about an individual’s belief based on what group association is perceived to believe. That’s been true about my Christianity, about my love for retro games, about my ethnicity, about my gender, about my age group, about nearly everything about me before people decided to maybe ask what I myself (not my “collective”) actually believe.

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I, by definition, don’t fit your narrative. I am an individual. There are too many variables in my life.

One of the persisting stereotypes of religious people is that they’re judgmental (add hypocritical, indifferent, cold, dogmatic, intolerant, and bigoted to that, as well) but I wouldn’t classify all of them as such. I’ve known some very merciful, gracious, and charitable religious people and I’ve known some that weren’t so much. Of course, they’re all sinners anyway so the distinction becomes moot at some point. The message here though is to avoid judging (identifying) individuals by group stereotypes, to “group-think” the individual away by melding them with the nebulous “members of a collective”.

Turns out this is easier to do than we might think. We do it all the time. It’s easiest with those groups we don’t agree with.

Nobody wants to be identified foremost by stereotypes or by a group’s totality. People want to be seen not as numbers or skin colors or worldviews, but as persons. Isn’t that what you want?

Individualism may be on the wane but I certainly want to be thought of for my own opinions and behavior, not for those associated with my group associations. One small part of why I have tried to bring some elements of learning, academia, philosophy, critical studies, and intelligence into something really as simple as reviewing video games is because I wanted to demonstrate that not all Christians are idiots. I had to be the one to stand against echo chambers earlier this year, for crying out loud! That’s not to say I’m the smartest person out there, now. Of course not!

One of the most inspiring things to me about Christianity, though, is the extremely intelligent body of Christian writers throughout history whose works I’ve enjoyed. One of them furnished the quotation that serves as TWRM’s tagline under our header image.

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I’m reminded ultimately that this is a gaming site, not a pulpit, so to avoid stumbling into the stereotype of sounding preachy, let me bring up a video game with an example of what I’m talking about to highlight my point and take all these words to their conclusion.

I like video games, if you couldn’t already tell. This is an interesting hobby for me because I’m additionally a Christian and believer in the supernatural/metaphysical. Christianity in particular and organized Western religion as a whole has not had too much of a positive presence in its depiction in gaming. I’m sure you can think of more than a few examples.

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Final Fantasy Tactics comes to mind as one proposing corrupted religious writings. Final Fantasy X features a massive religion built on false hope and human sacrifice. Breath of Fire II has at its center the Church of St. Eva which is actually a front for the rise of demons. In recent memory, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 constructed the interesting premise of an Architect and theodicy, why the world was the way it was, and how to regain paradise, only to defuse the difficulty of the question (spoilers: highlight to revealby making the Architect just a man. JRPGs have a long history of stuff like this. Even the Badly Backlogged Mage touched on it with his review of Out There Chronicles – Episode One.

I understand these as coming from a culture in Japan that’s historically distrusting of organized Western religion and in the West itself from the loosely defined perspective of atheist creators. What’s more, the biggest conglomerates of organized religion have not had a great track record through history, going all the way back to the Bible itself where the outwardly religious in both the Old and the New Testaments were villainous. Power corrupts, whether secular or sacred.

Well, EarthBound positioned simple prayer as the nail in the coffin for its big bad but perhaps the most positive experience I’ve had in gaming related at all to religion is with Journey, more of a spiritual and emotional experience, really. It’s Breath of Fire II, though, that’s going to give us our analogy.

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In Breath of Fire II, there’s a minor non-playable character named Ray, an acolyte of the Church of St. Eva. Ray was once an orphan, taken in by the church and raised in its teachings. When the heroes first encounter him in Capitan, he’s seen charitably helping the townsfolk and he assists in rescuing a child lost in the well, holding back a flood with the power of his magic while everyone else evacuates. He teaches some of your friends a bit of his healing magic, too.

He crops up again in the story now and then but it’s not until the party discovers the dark mission of the Church of St. Eva and confronts its leader Habaraku that Ray becomes a threat, seemingly. Standing between Ryu who is out to stop the advent of demons with his companions and the church that raised him, Ray has a moral crisis to solve. Habaraku orders Ray to kill Ryu and his friends and Ray begins to fight, transforming into a gigantic dragon. During the fight, Ray indirectly teaches Ryu how to utilize his own ultimate dragon transformation and Ryu uses this to defeat Ray. This is the acolyte’s self-sacrifice.

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Dying, Ray reveals that he knows about his ties to the dragon clan, the same clan that Ryu is from, the enemies of the church. Ray expresses that he could not turn his back on the church that raised him, though, and his final wish is for Ryu to make a world where there is a god that people can truly believe in.

Ray is an interesting character because he acts on his own will, he’s a freethinker, a rogue. He doesn’t fit into the rules and most importantly, he doesn’t fit the narrative either that everyone in the church is evil or that everyone in the dragon clan is good. He’s a surprisingly human character for such a minor one in a poorly localized 16-bit JRPG. He is precisely the example of seeing the individual ahead of the collective that I’ve been talking about.

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So I’m not here to complain about a lack of proper representation in media. I’m not out to stake a claim in pop culture to justify or validate my collective identity. Considering the individual is much broader than that. It bridges upon every group, every collective, every subjective social identity. A lot of us grew up being taught not to care about what other people think but to think of other people first. The point is to look out for the individual, the person among the people.

Maybe one day such a person will save your life?

 

In your service,
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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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12 replies »

  1. Remembering the individual within a self-identifying group will allow a person’s life to expand beyond its current parameters instead of receding within. A lot of this pairs with what we discussed in the comments of my post responding to big question #007 – that the best resources we have are each other, so rejecting people because they’re part of a group is rejecting a valuable addition to our life that will improve it. It’s basically the story of the Good Samaritan. Now I’m not religious per se, at least not in the traditional/overly-simplified yes/no sense, but I can still appreciate those Bible stories because of they’re at least true emotionally (like any number of classic literary works). Unfortunately, most people seem to think that it’s all for Christians only, so also reject that. Group think isn’t just limited to people, it extends into culture. If people will get dogmatic about what corporation published a comic book or manufactured a games console, of course they’ll turn their back on a series of legitimate morality tales just because its readers believe that they were written/dictated by a higher power (though I’m sure that you’ll have much more first-hand experience of that than me). The problem is sort of causing itself, which is unfortunate, given that it’s also one of the most serious problems in society/culture right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s still much more to be written and said about this subject. I’m glad to hear you’re interesting, nuanced perspective on the biblical text. I do find that they’re often dismissed out of hand because of their religious associations without consideration of their historical, linguistic, cultural, and scholastic value. Even as moral texts, I don’t think that the Bible is for Christians only. Not at all.

      You and I haven’t talked much about this before but I recall you mentioned you listened to a lecture I gave on YouTube.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, “Theotokos…”. I found it after I was wondering if you had a YouTube channel (this was before the audio reviews), and I kept listening because of how accessible it was.

        I remember, back in 2012, when I was still in school, my English teacher said something off-hand that I specifically remember: “The Bible was written by men who were stupid”. It wasn’t so much the statement as the fact that it was a professional educator saying it. That was the moment when I really began to think about this sort of stuff because I was intelligent enough to understand why it was a problem for a person who’s considered by young people to be an authority on such things to be normalising those kind of presumptions. It was a bit like eating the fruit of the tree. I’d be told not to do so, but because I did so, I gained the ability to understand that I can be deceived. Adam and Eve’s realisation of their nakedness was my realisation that I’m exposed, and their clothes became my armour against mass consensus.

        At the same time, “Marvel’s The Avengers” had just come out and everyone was of course very eager to talk about it. But as soon as I suggested the idea of a “Justice League” film, those people were dismissive in the same way: that it’s DC. So then I began to consider the wider implications about that kind of mentality and how its spread into just about everything instead of religion being to blame, which is another thing that we’d been led to believe. In a way, it was a bit like being unfashionable out of principle, “Why should I think this way just because everyone else is?”. So that refusal to have whatever opinions I was told to have is what really came to define me as a person because it’s also the reason that I was such an outcast. That’s why individualism is my personal standard, because it was the reason for every division between myself and the other students. But if I voice my concerns about it, then I’m using words to create my own world, a focused light of thought within a dark absence of it, and which can save people from a dying culture. It was my cross to bare back then, but I’ve learned now to carry the heaviest version of it that I can, because it will make me as strong as I can be.

        That’s why the story of Christ (which I, unlike a lot of people, have actually bothered to research historiorically so I know that he’s not just Robin Hood or King Arthur) appeals to me because it’s the story of somebody who questioned what he was told to think, even when it brought upon him the worst possible consequences, but as a result, the people who understood him started a belief system that was the first one to be open to everybody and is therefore diverse in thought and the only religion that is about freedom (that sounds like a very ignorant way of dimissing other faiths, which it may be, but it is the case, historically and scriptually). That’s why the various demoninations and their regular disagreements about interpreting it are a good thing, because when they debate the meaning of Mary’s “grace”, they’re remembering the fundamental principle of Christ, which started all of it in the first place: saying what you believe, even when everybody tells you that you’re wrong. So it’s definitely a source of inspiration for me when I think about labels and toxic, tribalistic fandom.
        (That’s also why you don’t need to worry about me thinking of you as being representative of “the true” Christianity, which you also already explained anyway on your old Norton Literature site.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an excellent way of approaching life and how we treat people. It’s very easy for us to group people together. Even with trivial things like being a console fanboy or liking a certain film. We are individuals – You’re absolutely right 🙂 It’s like Cap says in Civil War “My faith’s in… people I guess. Individuals.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right, of course. Easy example right here: I’m a DC fan (prior and beyond the current films, thank you) and not a Marvel fan, so I could easily begin to associate negative character attributes to you because you quoted a Marvel film, but I’m not gonna because I just wrote this post about it! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Some really excellent thoughts on how demonized religion has become. I think the three Western religions are seen in some sort of negative light, with Christianity and Islam probably being hated slightly more than Judaism, simply because of the extremists (or hypocrites) that exist in both groups. I unfortunately don’t have data to back that up, but it’s just been an observation of mine…

    At any rate, I disagree with you on the subject of whether media matters or not, for the same reason I like the game examples that you offered. Representation is not necessary to stroke one’s ego, sure, and, at least for me, the point about validation/justification is not about asking society if I may please, please exist, and please, please will you like me? …but you contrasted good and bad representations in games here. So, we must consider the individual, just like this video game shows us how to do. Seeing a person as an individual, even within an intolerant (or “intolerant,” depending on what side of the issue one is on) religion, is important… just like this video game demonstrates. And, after an example like Final Fantasy X, which is very clearly against any sort of rigid, bureaucratic religious group and reinforced those “religion is bad” stereotypes through its story, it’s good to consider that even within those structures, there are people who truly believe in all the good parts of the religion, and who strive to live their lives in the kind, charitable way their god told them to… just like this guy from a video game.

    So, an entire wall of text to say that I agree that we should judge people as individuals, but I also think that it is important to be exposed to all kinds of thoughts on groups within media, so no one group is *always* being used as an archetype or stereotype, good or bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for reading! I agree with that observation about religion. In many cases it deserves the negative light, especially on the larger scale when it’s used to abuse people, which makes it difficult to see the individuals within it just as is the case with other groups.

      I woke up this morning thinking more about representation and how much it matters. The matters part is up to the individual, as in how much they’re going to care about it and how much they’re convinced of its value. So we both know we have differing views on the degree to which representation matters. I will say I’m open to having my mind changed, like I want to be in anything, but as of right now I don’t feel it matters as significantly as some other folks do. Which is fine; we can still have a conversation about it.

      We can dispense with the validation or justification aspect of representation as you have, so that’s out of the way, and beyond that I’m not certain that media needs to do this or that. Games can continue to portray religious types in any way and that’s external to myself. Anyway, I agree with everything in your final paragraph (with the difference being degrees of importance). Groups and portrayals are fine in whatever form in media and I trust that people will create the kinds they want and find their homes within them. With the religious examples cited, it appears that while this isn’t in the majority, there are already some examples in gaming of good and bad religious characters, anyway. “It is important to be exposed to all kinds of thoughts on groups within media” is something I wholeheartedly agree with and I think it’s there.

      Thanks again for the read and the thoughtful comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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